The Word Became Facebook
The mid-1990s: I still remember my last year of undergrad when my classmates started visiting the computer lab to use this new thing called email. And the next year, when getting on the internet meant enduring the long series of screeches and beeps that dialed up America Online.
But by the time I found my way to YDS, 1996 felt so long ago. Even though I had long before abandoned AOL, I found that my colleagues preparing for ministry were communicating more by social media than by the telegraph called email. Thus I joined, and it felt so exclusive. Like I was ahead of the curve.
Some have estimated that Facebook reached the height of its dominance in March 2010, when more people visited Facebook than Google. In its perceived ebb have come Twitter and now Google+. I spend more time now communicating once again by phone rather than computer. Except that I’m not talking. I’m checking my Twitter feed.
Awhile back, I heard someone on NPR wax eloquent about this media revolution. What was most revolutionary about it, he (or maybe it was she) said, was its astonishing velocity. She (or he) compared it to the 1970s, when the fastest technological advance in communications was moving from a dial phone to a push-button. Then the 1980s, when we went cordless. Twenty years felt like real progress. By contrast, it seems like a century ago when anyone used Netscape to browse the web. 2005 feels so long ago. This can pose any number of challenges for those who are in the business of “news” – or, more exact, for those of us in the business of communicating “good news.” How do we keep up with the breakneck speed of it all? Will the technology overtake the hu- man interactions it was supposed to support? Will Facebook be the same ghost town as MySpace by 2013? Yet the one question that is already answered is whether or not we should be there. The ubiquity of social media is simply too thorough to avoid. And too easy. Setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account takes all of, oh I don’t know, three minutes.
The question I am still trying to think through goes deeper than that. And is more confounding. How
can social media, in any real way, express a witness that approximates anything close to incarnational? How are social media fundamentally changing the ways we conceive of presence in our daily interactions, when all I might ever see of you is pixelated? How do I, as a minister of good news, maintain a ministry of presence in a digital culture that strikes me as, with each passing day, more and more gnostic?
It isn’t lost on me that the very Reformation of which I am an heir was mediated by a technological revolution even more profound than the one we are undergoing today. There simply would have been no Luther without Gutenberg.
And so, yes, you can find me on Facebook. Twitter too. Were Luther alive, I am quite certain he would be posting on his blog, one thesis at a time. But my hope is found in the fact that whether or not any of it is good news is best left to the One who can make any news good.
The Rev. Travis J. Scholl is managing editor of theological publications at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He blogs at www. stltoday.com/civilreligion.